Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination by Brian J. Walsh

I have been a fan of Bruce Cockburn‘s music since I was in high school. I have dozens of his albums and generally buy each new release.  Granted, our politics don’t exactly line up perfectly but I have always appreciated his depth and insight – the poetry and wisdom of his lyrics and the beauty of his music.

So when I stumbled upon Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination by Brian J. Walsh I was immediately intrigued.  It turned out to be a thoughtful, insightful and engaging work.  It is not light reading by any means and have a post-modern bent, but longtime fans of Cockburn will want to dive into this book.

More after the jump.

Here is the publishers blurb:

For forty years, singer and songwriter Bruce Cockburn has been writing beautifully evocative music. Bestselling author and respected theologian Brian Walsh has followed Cockburn’s work for years and has written and spoken often on his art. In this creative theological and cultural engagement, Walsh reveals the imaginative depth and uncompromising honesty of the artist’s Christian spirituality. Cockburn offers hope in the midst of doubt, struggle, failure, and anger; indeed, the sentiment of “kicking at the darkness” is at the heart of his spirituality. This book engages the rich imagery of Cockburn’s lyrics as a catalyst for shaping and igniting a renewed Christian imagination.

As noted above, if you are a fan of Bruce Cockburn this is a must read book. Walsh explores Cockburn’s lyrics with depth and insight. Despite the fact that I have some rather serious disagreements with Walsh’s politics (he fails to wrestle with the contributions and failings of free markets and accepts some caricatures of President Bush, etc.), I really enjoyed the way he provocatively explored Cockburn’s work through the eyes of scripture and faith. He examines Cockburn as a prophetic voice and psalmist offering laments and praise in equal measure.

If you are not a fan of Cockburn, or familiar with his work, I am not sure you would enjoy the book quite as much or be able to make the connections. But if you are interested in the intersection music, faith and art Walsh still offers some interesting conceptions of how we view the world and how music and art engage and inform that worldview.

My only complaint is that the book can get rather dense and seems maybe a tad too long. Some familiarity with philosophy, particularly with a post-modern perspective, is probably needed to appreciate Walsh’s style and arguments.

It is not necessarily a quick or easy read but there is a lot to appreciate and think about in this volume of critical engagement and imagination.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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